Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
When you hear that I’m an ISJL Education Fellow, spending two years working for a Jewish organization as an itinerant Jewish educator… you might assume that I want to be a rabbi in the future. Or maybe you’re guessing I spent many a wonderful summer at a Jewish camp. OR you may think I’m a clergy-kid, following in a parent’s footsteps.
Well, think again! Because I check approximately . . . none of those boxes!
Instead, I’m discovering what it means for me to be Jewish… while working in a Jewish job.
So, yeah. I had quite a different experience growing up Jewish than most of my fellow Fellows and coworkers. To be honest, I really didn’t “grow up very Jewish.” For years, my parents and I would say the blessings as we lit the candles in our menorah for Hanukkah – rather – I would make noises with my mouth to form the words that didn’t look real to me. I didn’t even know what the words looked like until I was probably fifteen.
Both of my parents grew up in Pennsylvania; as young adults, they had negative experiences with their local synagogues, mostly due to a lack of finances paired with the need for spiritual fulfillment/community support. From that point on, they decided that if they ever had a child, they would raise them unaffiliated and basically secular. And that child . . . was me! Little did they know, that this decision – made far before even my conception, even before I was a consideration or thought or blip on the timeline – would push me, even more, to discover and learn about my own Judaism.
Even though I grew up in Florida, surrounded by Jews and people who may have understood my experience, it wasn’t until my family and I moved to North Carolina when I was nine-years-old, that I even began to feel Jewish.
Why was this? Because this was the moment that I realized I was different. I wasn’t Christian like the majority of my friends in elementary school in Fairview, North Carolina. I didn’t celebrate Easter or Christmas. I witnessed casually-made anti-Semitic comments made by kids who were supposed to be my “peers” but never thought a Jew would be among them. I was one of maybe two other Jews in the entire school.
However, this pushed me forward, to find an area of study that answered a lot of questions I had always had. To find a community that I felt a part of. To do work that connected me to my heritage and ancestry as a way to feel closer to my family’s Jewish background. To seize every opportunity that taught me something about Judaism and how to “do Jewish.” My way.
Today, I still ask plenty of questions. Sure, there are still things I don’t know or I’m unsure of. But I’m learning that that’s okay – because some of the most important parts of being Jewish are having these questions, getting multiple answers and opinions, adapting one’s Judaism to how one can understand and be it, and continuing to learn more . . . every single day.